Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Educational AND Fun

I have been playing Portal 2 since I got back from my trip and it is a hoot. In the first round it was just you, the sadistic AI GLaDOS, the turrets (friendly guardian robots that will shoot you as soon as they notice you), and the occasional companion cube. You have to make your way through a series of "testing" chambers armed only with a portal gun and your wits. Business as usual at Aperture Science.

In the sequel a new dimension has been added. As the game starts out you learn that something has gone horribly wrong at Aperture Science. As you make your way through more test chambers seeking an exit, you make a new friend, bumbling but affable AI Wheatley. He does his best to help you thwart GLaDOS and get the heck out. Unfortunately, you find yourself in an old abandoned early Aperture testing facility and must make your way up from there to be able to get back to the more modern facility and (presumably) the exit. I just made it back to the modern facility last night.

This time around, in addition to your portal gun and companion cubes, you also have various types of gel available to aid you. It was once upon a time being pumped through the facility and is now pretty much leaking all over the place. The different types have names but I can't remember any of them, I just know them by color. Blue makes you bounce, orange makes you go fast, and white turns any surface into one you can use for portals. Those portals used in conjunction with the various gels are how you make your way through the different chambers.

Basically this entire game is an exercise in problem solving and creative thinking. It is utterly delightful, even when it is frustrating beyond measure. Sometimes the way out of a room just requires you to examine your surroundings carefully. Sometimes it requires you to play with physics. Often it requires both.

In addition to the wonderful mental challenge, the game is just vastly entertaining. For one thing there has been an amazing amount of attention paid to the details. Every room is a little bit different from the last. The signs adorning all of the walls you pass in your trek are informative and amusing. They help to paint a picture of what went down as well as giving you all of the information you need in order to move on to the next chamber. Often something you pass in one little corner of the facility serves as foreshadowing for what you will encounter two, three, even ten chambers down the road.

Then there is the dialog.


Now, let's get this straight. This is a solitary game (there is a co-op mode, but I cannot speak to it as I haven't played that aspect, and I understand it is a very different, though no less entertaining experience, but I am speaking of the single-player mode here). Even when you've got help from, say, Wheatley, you still pretty much have to do (and figure out how to do) everything on your own. Your avatar has no voice, no conversations. But GLaDOS and Wheatley both talk at you quite a bit, each in a staggeringly different tone, both roll on the floor hilarious. There are "encouraging" recorded announcements as you go through the testing chambers. In the modern part of the facility it is a friendly robotic Mr. Moviefone kind of voice. In the older section? It's J.K. Simmons as an over the top less than scrupulous business man. His lines are a thing of beauty my friends. A thing of beauty.

Portal 2, like its predecessor, is funny and smart and fun. My husband has already played it through twice. It is actually a pretty short game (maybe ten or twelve hours of play time, maybe less), which is fantastic, because that means you can play it over and over again if you want without getting the feeling you are just slogging through. When the game isn't moving along, it is because you, the player, are stuck, and therefore simply not paying close enough attention to your surroundings. Every "aha!" moment when you finally get unstuck brings with it the same feeling of triumph as bringing down one of the baddest bosses in any more traditional video game.

I think, no, I know, that once Baby Girl gets old enough to play PC games, this series is going to be the first one we fire up for her. She likes figuring things out, so it will be the perfect starter.

I can't wait to find out what the endgame holds in store for me. If it is anything comparable to the first game, then I have much to look forward to.

If you like puzzle-solving and snarky AI's, and have any interest in gaming, I cannot recommend Portal and Portal 2 enough. They are well worth anyone's time, I promise.

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